The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter li.

Of Those who Did Reign After Chinghis Kaan, and of the Customs of the Tartars.

Now the next that reigned after Chinghis Kaan, their first Lord,1 was CUY KAAN, and the third Prince was BATUY KAAN, and the fourth was ALACOU KAAN, the fifth MONGOU KAAN, the sixth CUBLAY KAAN, who is the sovereign now reigning, and is more potent than any of the five who went before him; in fact, if you were to take all those five together, they would not be so powerful as he is.2 Nay, I will say yet more; for if you were to put together all the Christians in the world, with their Emperors and their Kings, the whole of these Christians — aye, and throw in the Saracens to boot — would not have such power, or be able to do so much as this Cublay, who is the Lord of all the Tartars in the world, those of the Levant and of the Ponent included; for these are all his liegemen and subjects. I mean to show you all about this great power of his in this book of ours.

You should be told also that all the Grand Kaans, and all the descendants of Chinghis their first Lord, are carried to a mountain that is called ALTAY to be interred. Wheresoever the Sovereign may die, he is carried to his burial in that mountain with his predecessors; no matter an the place of his death were 100 days’ journey distant, thither must he be carried to his burial.3

Let me tell you a strange thing too. When they are carrying the body of any Emperor to be buried with the others, the convoy that goes with the body doth put to the sword all whom they fall in with on the road, saying: “Go and wait upon your Lord in the other world!” For they do in sooth believe that all such as they slay in this manner do go to serve their Lord in the other world. They do the same too with horses; for when the Emperor dies, they kill all his best horses, in order that he may have the use of them in the other world, as they believe. And I tell you as a certain truth, that when Mongou Kaan died, more than 20,000 persons, who chanced to meet the body on its way, were slain in the manner I have told.[NOTE 4]

NOTE 1. — Before parting with Chinghiz let me point out what has not to my knowledge been suggested before, that the name of “Cambuscan bold” in Chaucer’s tale is only a corruption of the name of Chinghiz. The name of the conqueror appears in Fr. Ricold as Camiuscan, from which the transition to Cambuscan presents no difficulty. Camius was, I suppose, a clerical corruption out of Canjus or Cianjus. In the chronicle of St. Antonino, however, we have him called “Chinghiscan rectius Tamgius Cam” (XIX. c. 8). If this is not merely the usual blunder of t for c, it presents a curious analogy to the form Tankiz Khán always used by Ibn Batuta. I do not know the origin of the latter, unless it was suggested by tankis (Ar.) “Turning upside down.” (See Pereg. Quat., p. 119; I. B. III. 22, etc.)

NOTE 2. — Polo’s history here is inadmissible. He introduces into the list of the supreme Kaans Batu, who was only Khan of Kipchak (the Golden Horde), and Hulaku who was Khan of Persia, whilst he omits Okkodai, the immediate successor of Chinghiz. It is also remarkable that he uses the form Alacou here instead of Alaü as elsewhere; nor does he seem to mean the same person, for he was quite well aware that Alaü was Lord of the Levant, who sent ambassadors to the Great Khan Cúbláy, and could not therefore be one of his predecessors. The real succession ran: 1. Chinghiz; 2. Okkodai; 3. Kuyuk; 4. Mangku; 5. Kúblái.

There are quite as great errors in the history of Haiton, who had probably greater advantages in this respect than Marco. And I may note that in Teixeira’s abridgment of Mirkhond, Hulaku is made to succeed Mangku Kaan on the throne of Chinghiz. (Relaciones, p. 338.)

NOTE 3. — The ALTAI here certainly does not mean the Great South Siberian Range to which the name is now applied. Both Altai and Altun–Khan appear sometimes to be applied by Sanang Setzen to the Khingan of the Chinese, or range running immediately north of the Great Wall near Kalgan. (See ch. lxi. note I.) But in reference to this matter of the burial of Chinghiz, he describes the place as “the district of Yekeh Utek, between the shady side of the Altai–Khan and the sunny side of the Kentei–Khan.” Now the Kentei–Khan (khan here meaning “mountain”) is near the sources of the Onon, immediately to the north-east of Urga; and Altai–Khan in this connection cannot mean the hills near the Great Wall, 500 miles distant.

According to Rashiduddin, Chinghiz was buried at a place called Búrkán Káldún (“God’s Hill”), or Yekeh Kúrúk (“The Great Sacred or Tabooed Place”); in another passage he calls the spot Búdah Undúr (which means, I fancy, the same as Búrkán Káldún), near the River Selenga. Búrkán Kaldún is often mentioned by Sanang Setzen, and Quatremère seems to demonstrate the identity of this place with the mountain called by Pallas (and Timkowski) Khanoolla. This is a lofty mountain near Urga, covered with dense forest, and is indeed the first woody mountain reached in travelling from Peking. It is still held sacred by the Mongols and guarded from access, though the tradition of Chinghiz’s grave seems to be extinct. Now, as this Khanoolla (“Mount Royal,” for khan here means “sovereign,” and oolla “mountain”) stands immediately to the south of the Kentei mentioned in the quotation from S. Setzen, this identification agrees with his statement, on the supposition that the Khanoolla is the Altai of the same quotation. The Khanoolla must also be the Han mountain which Mongol chiefs claiming descent from Chinghiz named to Gaubil as the burial-place of that conqueror. Note that the Khanoolla, which we suppose to be the Altai of Polo, and here of Sanang Setzen, belongs to a range known as Khingan, whilst we see that Setzen elsewhere applies Altai and Altan–Khan to the other Khingan near the Great Wall.

Erdmann relates, apparently after Rashiduddin, that Chinghiz was buried at the foot of a tree which had taken his fancy on a hunting expedition, and which he had then pointed out as the place where he desired to be interred. It was then conspicuous, but afterwards the adjoining trees shot up so rapidly, that a dense wood covered the whole locality, and it became impossible to identify the spot. (Q. R. 117 seqq.; Timk. I. 115 seqq., II. 475–476; San. Setz. 103, 114–115, 108–109; Gaubil, 54; Erd. 444.)

[“There are no accurate indications,” says Palladius (l.c. pp. 11–13), “in the documents of the Mongol period on the burial-places of Chingiz Khan and of the Khans who succeeded him. The Yuan-shi or ‘History of the Mongol Dynasty in China,’ in speaking of the burial of the Khans, mentions only that they used to be conveyed from Peking to the north, to their common burial-ground in the K’i-lien Valley. This name cannot have anything in common with the ancient K’i-lien of the Hiung-nu, a hill situated to the west of the Mongol desert; the K’i-lien of the Mongols is to be sought more to the east. When Khubilai marched out against Prince Nayan, and reached the modern Talnor, news was received of the occupation of the Khan’s burial-ground by the rebels. They held out there very long, which exceedingly afflicted Khubilai [Yuan shi lui pien]; and this goes to prove that the tombs could not be situated much to the west. Some more positive information on this subject is found in the diary of the campaign in Mongolia in 1410, of the Ming Emperor Yung-lo [Pe ching lu]. He reached the Kerulen at the place where this river, after running south, takes an easterly direction. The author of the diary notes, that from a place one march and a half before reaching the Kerulen, a very large mountain was visible to the north-east, and at its foot a solitary high and pointed hillock, covered with stones. The author says, that the sovereigns of the house of Yuan used to be buried near this hill. It may therefore be plausibly supposed that the tombs of the Mongol Khans were near the Kerulen, and that the ‘K’i-lien’ of the Yuan shi is to be applied to this locality; it seems to me even, that K’i-lien is an abbreviation, customary to Chinese authors, of Kerulen. The way of burying the Mongol Khans is described in the Yuan shi (ch. ‘On the national religious rites of the Mongols’), as well as in the Ch’ue keng lu, ‘Memoirs of the time of the Yuan Dynasty.’ When burying, the greatest care was taken to conceal from outside people the knowledge of the locality of the tomb. With this object in view, after the tomb was closed, a drove of horses was driven over it, and by this means the ground was, for a considerable distance, trampled down and levelled. It is added to this (probably from hearsay) in the Ts’ao mu tze Memoirs (also of the time of the Yuan Dynasty), that a young camel used to be killed (in the presence of its mother) on the tomb of the deceased Khan; afterwards, when the time of the usual offerings of the tomb approached, the mother of this immolated camel was set at liberty, and she came crying to the place where it was killed; the locality of the tomb was ascertained in this way.”

The Archimandrite Palladius adds in a footnote: “Our well-known Mongolist N. Golovkin has told us, that according to a story actually current among the Mongols, the tombs of the former Mongol Khans are situated near Tasola Hill, equally in the vicinity of the Kerulen. He states also that even now the Mongols are accustomed to assemble on that hill on the seventh day of the seventh moon (according to an ancient custom), in order to adore Chingiz Khan’s tomb. Altan tobchi (translated into Russian by Galsan Gomboeff), in relating the history of the Mongols after their expulsion from China, and speaking of the Khans’ tombs, calls them Naiman tzagan gher, i.e. ‘Eight White Tents’ (according to the number of chambers for the souls of the chief deceased Khans in Peking), and sometimes simply Tzagan gher, ‘the White Tent,’ which, according to the translator’s explanation, denotes only Chingiz Khan’s tomb.”

“According to the Chinese Annals (T’ung kien kang mu), quoted by Dr. E. Bretschneider (Med. Res. I. p. 157), Chinghiz died near the Liu p’an shan in 1227, after having subdued the Tangut empire. On modern Chinese maps Liu p’an shan is marked south of the city of Ku yüan chou, department of P’ing liang, in Kan suh. The Yüan shí however, implies that he died in Northern Mongolia. We read there, in the annals, s.a. 1227, that in the fifth intercalary month the Emperor moved to the mountain Liu p’an shan in order to avoid the heat of the summer. In the sixth month the empire of the Hia (Tangut) submitted. Chinghiz rested on the river Si Kiang in the district of Ts’ing shui (in Kansuh; it has still the same name). In autumn, in the seventh month (August), on the day jen wu, the Emperor fell ill, and eight days later died in his palace Ha-lao-t’u on the River Sa-li. This river Sali is repeatedly mentioned in the Yüan shi, viz. in the first chapter, in connection with the first military doings of Chinghiz. Rashid reports (D’Ohsson, I. 58) that Chinghiz in 1199 retired to his residence Sari Kihar. The Yüan chao pi shi (Palladius’ transl., 81) writes the same name Saari Keher (Keher in modern Mongol means ‘a plain’). On the ancient map of Mongolia found in the Yüan shi lei pien, Sa-li K’ie-rh is marked south of the river Wa-nan (the Onon of our maps), and close to Sa-li K’ie-rh we read: ‘Here was the original abode of the Yüan’ (Mongols). Thus it seems the passage in the Yüan history translated above intimates that Chinghiz died in Mongolia, and not near the Liu p’an shan, as is generally believed. The Yüan ch’ao pi shi (Palladius’ transl., 152) and the ’Ts’in cheng lu (Palladius’ transl., 195) both agree in stating that, after subduing the Tangut empire, Chinghiz returned home, and then died. Colonel Yule, in his Marco Polo (I. 245), states ‘that Rashid calls the place of Chinghiz’ death Leung shan, which appears to be the mountain range still so-called in the heart of Shensi.’ I am not aware from what translation of Rashid, Yule’s statement is derived, but d’Ohsson (I. 375, note) seems to quote the same passage in translating from Rashid: ‘Liu-p’an-shan was situated on the frontiers of the Churche (empire of the Kin), Nangias (empire of the Sung) and Tangut;’ which statement is quite correct.”

We now come to the Mongol tradition, which places the tomb of Chinghiz in the country of the Ordos, in the great bend of the Yellow River.

Two Belgian missionaries, MM. de Vos and Verlinden, who visited the tomb of Chinghiz Khan, say that before the Mahomedan invasion, on a hill a few feet high, there were two courtyards, one in front of the other, surrounded by palisades. In the second courtyard, there were a building like a Chinese dwelling-house and six tents. In a double tent are kept the remains of the bokta (the Holy). The neighbouring tents contained various precious objects, such as a gold saddle, dishes, drinking-cups, a tripod, a kettle, and many other utensils, all in solid silver. (Missions Catholiques, No. 315, 18th June, 1875.)— This periodical gives (p. 293) a sketch of the tomb of the Conqueror, according to the account of the two missionaries.

Prjevalsky (Mongolia and Tangut) relates the story of the Khatún Gol (see supra, p. 245), and says that her tomb is situated at 11 versts north-east of lake of Dzaïdemin Nor, and is called by the Mongols Tumir–Alku, and by the Chinese Djiou–Djin Fu; one of the legends mentioned by the Russian traveller gives the Ordo country as the burial-place of Chinghiz, 200 versts south of lake Dabasun Nor; the remains are kept in two coffins, one of wood, the other of silver; the Khan prophesied that after eight or ten centuries he would come to life again and fight the Emperor of China, and being victorious, would take the Mongols from the Ordos back to their country of Khalka; Prjevalsky did not see the tomb, nor did Potanin.

“Their holiest place [of the Mongols of Ordos] is a collection of felt tents called ‘Edjen-joro,’ reputed to contain the bones of Jenghiz Khan. These sacred relics are entrusted to the care of a caste of Darhats, numbering some fifty families. Every summer, on the twenty-first day of the sixth moon, sacrifices are offered up in his honour, when numbers of people congregate to join in the celebration, such gatherings being called táilgan.” On the southern border of the Ordos are the ruins of Boro-balgasun [Grey town], said to date from Jenghiz Khan’s time. (Potanin, Proc. R. G. S. IX. 1887, p. 233.)

The last traveller who visited the tomb of Chinghiz is M. C. E. Bonin, in July 1896; he was then on the banks of the Yellow River in the northern part of the Ordo country, which is exclusively inhabited by nomadic and pastoral Mongols, forming seven tribes or hords, Djungar, Talat, Wan, Ottok, Djassak, Wushun and Hangkin, among which are eastward the Djungar and in the centre the Wan; according to their own tradition, these tribes descend from the seven armies encamped in the country at the time of Chinghiz’s death; the King of Djungar was 67 years of age, and was the chief of all the tribes, being considered the 37th descendant of the conqueror in a direct line. His predecessor was the Wushun Wang. M. Bonin gives (Revue de Paris, 15th February 1898) the following description of the tomb and of the country surrounding it. Between the yamen (palace) of the King (Wang) of Djungar and the tomb of Chinghiz–Khan, there are five or six marches made difficult by the sands of the Gobi, but horses and camels may be used for the journey. The road, southward through the desert, passes near the great lama-monastery called Barong-tsao or Si-tsao (Monastery of the West), and in Chinese San-t’ang sse (Three Temples). This celebrated monastery was built by the King of Djungar to hold the tablets of his ancestors — on the ruins of an old temple, said to have been erected by Chinghiz himself. More than a thousand lamas are registered there, forty of them live at the expense of the Emperor of China. Crossing afterwards the two upper branches of the Ulan Múren (Red River) on the banks of which Chinghiz was murdered, according to local tradition, close to the lake of Chahan Nor (White Lake), near which are the tents of the Prince of Wan, one arrives at last at the spot called Yeke–Etjen-Koro, in Mongol: the abode of the Great Lord, where the tomb is to be found. It is erected to the south-east of the village, comprising some twenty tents or tent-like huts built of earth. Two large white felt tents, placed side by side, similar to the tents of the modern Mongols, but much larger, cover the tomb; a red curtain, when drawn, discloses the large and low silver coffin, which contains the ashes of the Emperor, placed on the ground of the second tent; it is shaped like a big trunk, with great rosaces engraved upon it. The Emperor, according to local tradition, was cremated on the bank of the Ulan Muren, where he is supposed to have been slain. On the twenty-first day of the third moon the anniversary fête of Mongolia takes place; on this day of the year only are the two mortuary tents opened, and the coffin is exhibited to be venerated by people coming from all parts of Mongolia. Many other relics, dispersed all over the Ordo land, are brought thither on this occasion; these relics called in Mongol Chinghiz Bogdo (Sacred remains of Chinghiz) number ten; they are in the order adopted by the Mongols: the saddle of Chinghiz, hidden in the Wan territory; the bow, kept at a place named Hu-ki-ta-lao Hei, near Yeke Etjen–Koro; the remains of his war-horse, called Antegan-tsegun (more), preserved at Kebere in the Djungar territory; a fire-arm kept in the palace of the King of Djungar; a wooden and leather vase called Pao-lao-antri, kept at the place Shien-ni-chente; a wax figure containing the ashes of the Khan’s equerry, called Altaqua-tosu, kept at Ottok (one of the seven tribes); the remains of the second wife, who lay at Kiasa, on the banks of the Yellow River, at a place called on Prjevalsky’s map in Chinese Djiou–Djin-fu, and in Mongol Tumir–Alku; the tomb of the third wife of Chinghiz, who killed him, and lay today at Bagha–Ejen-Koro, “the abode of the little Sovereign,” at a day’s march to the south of the Djungar King’s palace; the very tomb of Yeke–Etjen-Koro, which is supposed to contain also the ashes of the first wife of the Khan; and last, his great standard, a black wood spear planted in the desert, more than 150 miles to the south of the tomb; the iron of it never gets rusty; no one dares touch it, and therefore it is not carried to Yeke–Etjen-Koro with the other relics for the yearly festival. (See also Rockhill, Diary, p. 29.) — H. C.]

NOTE 4. — Rashiduddin relates that the escort, in carrying Chinghiz to his burial, slew all whom they met, and that forty noble and beautiful girls were despatched to serve him in the other world, as well as superb horses. As Mangku Kaan died in the heart of China, any attempt to carry out the barbarous rule in his case would involve great slaughter. (Erd. 443; D’Ohsson, I. 381, II. 13; and see Cathay, 507–508.)

Sanang Setzen ignores these barbarities. He describes the body of Chinghiz as removed to his native land on a two-wheeled waggon, the whole host escorting it, and wailing as they went: “And Kiluken Bahadur of the Sunid Tribe (one of the Khan’s old comrades) lifted up his voice and sang —

‘Whilom Thou didst swoop like a Falcon: A rumbling waggon now trundles thee off:

O My King!

Hast thou in truth then forsaken thy wife and thy children and the Diet of thy People?

O My King!

Circling in pride like an Eagle whilom Thou didst lead us,

O My King!

But now Thou hast stumbled and fallen, like an unbroken Colt,

O My King!’” (p. 108.)

[“The burying of living men with the dead was a general custom with the tribes of Eastern Asia. Favourite servants and wives were usually buried in this way. In China, the chief wives and those concubines who had already borne children, were exempted from this lot. The Tunguz and other tribes were accustomed to kill the selected victims by strangulation. In China they used to be buried alive; but the custom of burying living men ceased in A.D. 1464. [Hwang ming ts’ung sin lu.] In the time of the present Manchu Dynasty, the burying of living men was prohibited by the Emperor Kang-hi, at the close of the 17th century, i.e. the forced burying; but voluntary sepulture remained in force [Yu chi wen]. Notwithstanding this prohibition, cases of forced burying occurred again in remote parts of Manchuria; when a concubine refused to follow her deceased master, she was forcibly strangled with a bow-string [Ninguta chi]. I must observe, however, that there is no mention made in historical documents of the existence of this custom with the Mongols; it is only an hypothesis based on the analogy between the religious ideas and customs of the Mongols and those of other tribes.” (Palladius, p. 13.)

In his Religious System of China, II., Dr. J. J. M. de Groot devotes a whole chapter (ix. 721 seqq.), Concerning the Sacrifice of Human Beings at Burials, and Usages connected therewith. The oldest case on record in China dates as far back as B.C. 677, when sixty-six men were killed after the ruler Wu of the state of Ts’in died.

The Official Annals of the Tartar Dynasty of Liao, quoted by Professor J. J. M. de Groot (Religious System of China, vol. ii. 698), state that “in the tenth year of the T’ung hwo period (A.D. 692) the killing of horses for funeral and burial rites was interdicted, as also the putting into the tombs of coats of mail, helmets, and articles and trinkets of gold and silver.” Professor de Groot writes (l.c. 709): “But, just as the placing of victuals in the graves was at an early date changed into sacrifices of food outside the graves, so burying horses with the dead was also modified under the Han Dynasty into presenting them to the dead without interring them, and valueless counterfeits were on such occasions substituted for the real animals.”— H. C.]

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24